Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Anti-War Protest?

The Crusades were not popular among the Christians of Europe, even if they were considered a military necessity as a counter-attack against the home base from which surprise attacks and invasions had been launched against sleepy and unsuspecting places like Spain, France, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Austria.

During the Middle Ages while the Just War Theory - a debate about when or if a war was ever part of "justice" - was becoming more developed and Crusades were happening. Peace movements among Christians flourished. Francis of Assisi may or may not have been a pacifist, but he lived as if he were. A peace movement known as the "Great Alleluia" involving thousands of people took place in northern Italy in the 13th century, lead by an energetic priest who went from town to town, preaching in public. In 1233 the movement had grown to such proportions that 400,000 people gathered to demonstrate for peace and reconciliation. Another Italian peace movement known as the "Bianchi" moved about in thousands from city to city. Peacemaking was their major work. One chronicler notes that by the time one of these processions reached Rome its numbers had swelled to 200,000. Various groups of monks and priests opposed the Crusades, sometimes with words, and sometimes with actions.

Popular opposition to the Crusades spread, sometimes for these spiritual reasons, and sometimes for more worldly reasons: the Crusades cost money, and the soldiers who were part of them behaved like pagans. Yet the public tolerated these Crusades, even if they didn't like them, because it was understood that the alternative was a massive invasion by the Islamic armies into Europe.

People remembered how a Muslim army took over almost half of France, burning the wheatfields and houses, raping and killing the villagers, before Karl Martell and his army were able to turn them back. Those horrifying memories made the Crusades seem like a necessary, if unpleasant, defensive move.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

War in Ireland

The Irish seem to have been at war, off and on, forever, or at least for the last few centuries. Certainly, in the last few years, there have been periodic terrorist or guerilla-style attacks between the those in the northern part of the island, and those in the southern part.

The newspaper and TV routinely report these conflicts as the struggle between the Protestant and Catholic parts of Ireland. To be sure, southern Ireland is largely Roman Catholic, and northern Ireland is mainly Anglican. But is that really what the conflict is about?

Remember, Christianity in Ireland split into the two group in 1532, when Henry VIII started the English Reformation.

But the warfare in Ireland has been going on since the 1100's, and perhaps even earlier, when there was no religious division on island.

The fighting is Ireland is about the same things that most other wars are about: land, power, and money. It is not a religious war.

Sampling Errors

When we study the culture of a different time or place, we read their books, view their paintings, hear their music, and so form for ourselves a concept of what that society was like.

But how much material do we need to form an accurate view? Consider the following:

Shakespeare wrote approximately 154 sonnets, give or take. If I've read only one of them, can I make generalizations about them? What if I've read ten? Or twenty? He wrote around thirty-eight plays; if I've studied one of them, is that enough to form an impression of what his plays are like?

Sophocles penned about 123 plays; if I've read only two of them, can I make categorical statements about what the average Sophocles play is?

The statue of the Minoan Snake Goddess, with her eye-catching topless outfit, is much studied. But that is only one single statue, from a culture that made thousands of statues. Can I make generalizations about their statues from only this one? Or make generalizations about their religions, or about the roles which women played in their society?

Think of it this way: imagine yourself studying history 4,000 years from now, and reading about life in a typical North American city in our era. If you were to read only one magazine from this time, and use it to try to form a general idea about our culture, what would happen if that one magazine were Sports Illustrated? Or Vogue? Or Playboy?

Clearly you need several samples, and various samples, to gain a more accurate concept of society.